As captain of the Blues and Northern Mystics rugby and netball teams respectively, it’s hard to decide who among partners All Black Patrick Tuipulotu and Silver Fern Phoenix Karaka have bragging rights.
Suffice to say their Auckland-based teams are making fans happy with strong, cohesive performances that have also highlighted individual talent.
Hoskins Sotutu, son of former All Black midfield back Waisake, has been named Player of the Match in the Blues’ two Super Rugby Aotearoa wins against the Hurricanes and Chiefs that suggest dynamic Ardie Savea is no certainty to replace retired Kieran Read as the All Black No 8.
New Zealand have had some great international No 8s including Brian Lochore, Zinzan Brooke and Buck Shelford before Read made his mark after leaving Counties to hone his skills with Canterbury and the Crusaders.
Lochore was a great captain and born leader, as was hard-as-nails Shelford while Brooke possessed superb creativity.
Like Lochore, Read had exceptional lineout skills, was a good attacker and defender and without peer as winner of his team’s kick-offs.
Sotutu, aged 21, is also a champion lineout jumper capable of stealing opposition lineout ball and is a gifted, fast runner with a sharp brain in sizing up attacking options.
Add to that his strong defence and he’s the one who ticks most of Read’s boxes. That’s not to say he deserves the All Blacks No 8 berth ahead of the tigerish Savea at this stage although he’s a worthy candidate to join him and gutsy captain Sam Cane as the loose forward starting trio.
Pressing Sotutu for man-of-the-match honours in the 24-12 win against the Chiefs was rugged captain Tuipolotu whose powerful, crunching runs were instrumental in breaking the deadlock against the tenacious Chiefs.
Clearly he’s relishing the challenge of the captaincy and providing the grunt for which Colin Meads and Shelford were famous.
It was also good to see a fitter Akira Ioane provide a workmanlike performance at No 6 although he could struggle to retain his position when the high leaping, high octane Tom Robinson recovers from injury. Nevertheless Ioane’s natural athleticism is exceptional, as is younger brother Rieko’s who is relishing his switch from wing to centre.
Throw in fullback Beauden Barrett and powerful wings Mark Telea and Caleb Clarke and the Blues attacking potential is awesome.
It will become more so when the hugely experienced Barrett and Dan Carter get their crack at first-five despite the growing maturity of Otere Black.
Meanwhile I watch with wonder the amazing talent of Mystics just turned 18-year-old, 1.93cm Nigerian-born netball goal shoot Grace Nweke who leaps like a gazelle and shoots like Irene van Dyk with a 90 per cent plus average against the Swifts and Magic.
Constantly double marked, her poise under pressure and shooting accuracy does full justice to the superb feeds she receives from wing attack Peta Toeava, sister of former All Black Isaia, and centre Tayla Earle whose speed of pass and vision are exceptional.
At this stage the Mystics are a team that look most capable of challenging the Central Pulse for the national netball crown.
However, having thrashed the Northern Stars 63-39 on Sunday, the defending champions will take some beating with 20-year-old wing attack Maddy Gordon offering deadly shooters Aliyah Dunn and Ameliaranne Ekenasio a fast, accurate service.
<bullet> Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author